Intensive care: Experiences of family & friends


Sadly, not every patient survives critical illness and death or the possibility of death is an ever present reality in ICU. Here people talk about organising a funeral for the relative who'd died in intensive care or on a ward. 

Many people talked about having a funeral shortly after the death of their relative, partner or close friend. Deciding whether the deceased person will be buried or cremated is an extremely personal decision. For some it had been important to have a burial service so there would be somewhere specific they could visit and think about the person. For others having a cremation had been important. Some people said they'd discussed the kind of funeral the deceased person would have wanted with them at some point, and were glad to have felt able to follow his or her wishes. Others said the decision had been influenced by their family's religious beliefs. Some patients had left instructions for relatives to follow. Other relatives said they arranged the kind of funeral they thought the deceased person would have wanted. 


Her sister-in-law had left instructions and had wanted a Jewish funeral.

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
Then we had a funeral. And she'd left instructions. I think before she died we'd had a little time of, one of us had thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a green funeral' and we'd investigated this. And the rabbi had said he couldn't see anything that suggested that it wasn't appropriate, that it, you know, that you could have a Jewish funeral and it be green. But actually when we got to arrange it, it turned out that the place where it was going to be, there wasn't anywhere for us to really congregate or, anyway, it was right outside London and I hadn't even seen it. And in the end we settled on a Jewish funeral that was run by these two friends of hers. And that was fine. And we had a party back here for her.

And what happened next, after her death, in terms of' 

I can't remember, and I can't actually remember because my notes actually stop. I could probably work it out from my emails, which I think I've probably still got, whether the funeral was the next day which it's supposed to be for Jewish funerals. But I think it wasn't. So we told everyone when it was going to be and we said, I think it wasn't, because I think I had a day or two. And we set up the funeral and ordered some food and that was it. There was going to have to be a coroner's inquest, and there had to be a post-mortem I think. But I'm not absolutely sure whether there had to be a post-mortem, probably. And that we'd been given the name of a kind of Jewish burial service. So that it was all taken care of, that side of it.

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Her husband had told her what kind of a funeral he'd wanted, including the music, and this was...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
How did you decide in terms of what to do about the funeral. Was that something that you'? 

We had actually talked about it before, yes. Often actually [laughs]. We must be a morbid couple mustn't we [laughs]. Yes we had discussed it. Yes. He even told me which records he wanted. So' 

So you knew all that? 

Yes. Yes. It was very organised actually. And as far as these things go it was really nice. It was.


Organising their son's funeral helped her husband focus on something. They wanted everyone to...

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
He [husband] chose the clothes. He chose the jewellery. He chose the sentimental bits that our son had. I did nothing of that, I left it completely to my husband. It was his way of doing it and he never regrets that. And it's so important, so important. 

And how long was the funeral after, how many days after'?

Because it was an inquest, because of it happening at home, and because of the severity of it, it was nearly three weeks. But the funeral directors were the most wonderful people. We didn't want a grand affair, we didn't want any cars. We didn't want anybody in black. We didn't want the people, the mourners in dark clothes. We wanted them all to come in ordinary clothes and that was one thing that got my husband through it because there was a lot of planning to do. Whatever he wanted to do I let him do and let him, there was certain things he couldn't do so I would take over with the help of friends again. My parents just couldn't cope with any of it, they were really bad but being so busy, and I made myself so busy for those three weeks. 

The funeral was just beautiful, it was again so important that the way we'd done it, the way we didn't have to have all this, what I call very rigid rules and harshness, it was so lovely to do it and everybody came in bright clothes. There was yellows and oranges and greens and it was beautiful. The church was just, no expense was spared on the flowers and again it is so important, it's important to us and I hope that anybody else listening to this could really be inspired by the beauty of the flowers. It really does help.

Everybody has a different view I suppose about death and how you're going to, whether you're having a burial or a cremation and I think I wouldn't be the person to say, 'You've gotta do this, you've gotta do that'. You've gotta follow your heart. And all I know is the way we've done it I've got somewhere to go, I have got a place to go, I have a place to sit and I find great comfort. Some people can't do it, some people just can't visit a grave but, for us as a family, and it's very important because right up until the end my husband did not want this. He wanted the alternative and I just said, 'I feel that I know you so well. We've been together for so many years that the burial is the right thing to do for us as a family'. And he is so pleased we did because he just, has listened to other people that they've not had it and he feels that he would never have been able to cope with that. So he is finding the comfort now but it's taken a, you know, it's a long time down the, well, it's not a year yet but it's still raw to him at times.

Last reviewed August 2018.

Last updated November 2010.

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